Olympic Trials Men’s 1500 Preview: Nuguse, Hocker, Kessler, Teare, Waskom, Centro…Who Goes Home Devastated?

The marquee distance event of the Trials should be sensational

The most heavily-anticipated distance race of the 2024 US Olympic Trials is the men’s 1500 meters. You’ve got two in-their-prime superstars (American mile record holder Yared Nuguse and World Indoor silver medalist Cole Hocker) a precocious talent looking to make his first outdoor team (World Indoor bonze medalist Hobbs Kessler), the 2016 Olympic champion in the final season of his career (Matthew Centrowitz), and a host of promising collegians (including 2x NCAA champ Joe Waskom of Washington and Colin Sahlman of NAU). Plus a bunch of people I did not mention who are now pissed off at me for discounting their chances (of that group, Cooper Teare and Eric Holt are the ones with the best shot to make the team).

The only thing that could make this event better is if World Athletics passed an emergency rule saying the top three finishers are automatically qualified for the Olympics.In 2021, 2022, and 2023, we found ourselves in a situation where one of the top three finishers at USAs in the men’s 1500 did not have the Olympic/World standard so we had to do a bunch of math to figure out who would represent the US.

Unfortunately, that could repeat in 2024. Nuguse, Hocker, Teare, and Kessler all have the standard, and five more men are in position to qualify via world ranking. But some major players like Waskom, Centrowitz, Sahlman, and Oregon’s Elliott Cook have neither the ranking nor the standard right now, so things could get hairy. None of those guys are particularly close to qualifying at the moment and basically have to run the 3:33.50 Olympic standard at the Trials (and finish top 3) in order to compete at the Olympics.

Editor’s note: Seriously, where is the leadership from USATF? The fact that they don’t have a quota re-allocation for the track trials is absurd. If the 2016 Olympic champion wins the US Trials in the 1500, he should be in the Olympics – period.

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Men’s 1500 schedule
Friday, June 21, 8:22 p.m. ET
Semis: Saturday, June 22, 9:54 p.m. ET
Final: Monday, June 24, 8:47 p.m. ET

Top entrants (full entries here)

Athletes with 3:33.50 Olympic standard in bold, athletes with world ranking good enough to qualify for Olympics in italics

Name Affiliation Qualifying mark Note
Yared Nuguse On Athletics Club 3:29.10 3:43 miler, 5th Worlds, US outdoor champ
Cole Hocker NIKE 3:30.70 2nd world indoors, 6th Olympics, US indoor champ, 3rd USA’s 2023, sick kick
Hobbs Kessler adidas 3:48.66 mile 6th last year USA’s, tactics need work
Cooper Teare NIKE 3:32.16 2022 US champ, did not make ’23 final
Eric Holt EMPIRE ELITE TC 3:34.05 12th USA’s 2023, narrowly lost to Jake Wightman at NYC Grand Prix 1500
Luke Houser University of Washington 3:51.73 mile NCAA indoor mile champ, 12th outdoors
Craig Engels NIKE 3:52.05 mile 2019 USA champ, 10th 2019 Worlds, did not make US final last year
Nathan Green University of Washington 3:34.79 2023 NCAA champ, 10th this year
Matthew Centrowitz NIKE 3:35.16 2016 Olympic champion, 10th USA’s 2023, 7x national champion, master tactician
Henry Wynne Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 3:35.24 5th USA’s 2023
Colin Sahlman Northern Arizona University 3:33.96 4th NCAA’s
Vincent Ciattei Under Armour / Dark Sky Distance 3:34.62
Joseph Waskom University of Washington 3:34.64 2nd USA’s last year, 2x (2022,2024) NCAA champ
John Gregorek ASICS 3:35.04
Samuel Prakel adidas 3:35.21
Casey Comber Under Armour Mission Run Baltimore 3:51.92 mile

If you want to know why we at LetsRun.com are so obsessed with the men’s 1500, just watch the last Olympic Trials final (cued up to the final 200). And if you’ve seen it before, watch it again. This thing has popped up on my YouTube algorithm about a million times in the last three years and it never gets old.

How awesome was that? Championship 1500s are usually decided in the final 200 which means we get the track & field equivalent of a buzzer beater almost every time. Let’s hope for more of the same in Eugene on Monday.

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As for this year’s race, it’s easier to break the contenders up by category.

Group A: The Studs Who Really Should Make the Team

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Yared Nuguse and Cole Hocker both made the last Olympic team (though Nuguse did not compete in Tokyo due to injury) and have only gotten better since then. Nuguse is 25 and coming off a year in which he won two Diamond Leagues, won USAs, finished 5th at Worlds, and ran a 3:43 mile at the Pre Classic where he pushed Jakob Ingebrigtsen to the line and scared the world record. This year, he took silver in the 3,000 at World Indoors and most recently ran 3:47 to finish as the top American in the mile at Pre.

Hocker, 23, finished 7th at Worlds last year despite an injury-delayed start to the season, and this year has run pbs in the 800 (1:45), 2 miles (8:05), and 5,000 (12:58) in addition to earning a silver medal in the 1500 at World Indoors.

Both men are in their prime, both are in great form, and both are capable of succeeding in any kind of race. Most importantly, they’re healthy — which is the primary reason both Nuguse and Hocker missed the team in 2022.

So put they’re locks for the team, right?

Not quite. Look at this shot from the home straight of last year’s USA final.

Yes, Hocker and Nuguse are both in the top three, but notice that neither of them is leading. Instead it’s Joe Waskom, who had just finished 2nd at NCAAs, at the front of the pack. Waskom is back this year and says he has been running the best workouts of his life. And the guy just behind Hocker, Hobbs Kessler, came .03 from beating Hocker at World Indoors this year. Even if you say that Nuguse and Hocker each have an 85% chance of making the team, that means that 28% of the time, one of them misses out. And crazy things can happen in championship 1500m finals.

Group B: The Stud Who Should Make the Team on Paper But Is Actually Quite Vulnerable

If you were to group the field by pure talent, Hobbs Kessler belongs in the group with Nuguse and Hocker. This is a guy who ran 3:34 at age 18 and won a World Road Mile title and World Indoor 1500 bronze before the age of 21. He has a 1500 pb of 3:32.61 and has an impressive 800 pb of 1:45.07 (which really should have been a 1:44 if he wasn’t playing pinball in the final meters).

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But Kessler is not a finished product. He didn’t make the US final in 2021 or 2022, and while he did make it in 2023, he underperformed and finished 6th. Sometimes, he puts himself in bad positions or makes bad decisions in races. Those are the sort of growing pains Kessler was likely to experience after turning professional out of high school in 2021, particularly because he did not have the championship racing experience most young athletes gain through the NCAA system.

Kessler is now in his third full year as a pro, and while he is nearly two years younger than NCAA champ Joe Waskom, Kessler does not like to use age as an excuse. He is 21, which is the same age Alan Webb was when he won the ’04 Trials and a year older than Cole Hocker when he won the ’21 Trials.

Kessler has been brilliant at times in 2024, running a 3:48 mile at Millrose and earning World Indoor bronze after leading with 15m to go. But his last two races before the Trials have not gone well. He dropped out of the Bowerman Mile after getting bumped into the infield midway through the race, and was beaten by Eric Holt on June 9. Holt is a good runner, but he’s the kind of guy Kessler needs to beat if he is to make the team. Losing to him with two weeks to go is not a great sign.

MB Who is more talented – Alan Webb or Hobbs Kessler?

Group C: Veterans Who Need to Catch a Break to Make the Team

This group includes Eric Holt, Sam PrakelHenry Wynne, and Johnny Gregorek. These are the guys that are usually in the mix at the bell on the last lap of the US final but don’t quite have enough over the final lap to make the team. (I said usually — Gregorek has in fact made two teams, but he’s 32 now but the second of those teams came after he finished 6th at USAs).

Teare won USAs in 2022 (Phil Bond photo)

Realistically, if everyone in the field runs their absolute best race, these guys aren’t making the team. To make it to Paris, they’d need to have a great race and hope one or more of the favorites melt down.

I’m reluctantly putting Cooper Teare in this group as well. He doesn’t really belong here since he won USAs in 2022 and is the US leader this year at 3:32.16. But when Teare won in 2022, Hocker and Nuguse were both banged up, Kessler was only 19, and the college crop was not nearly as strong as it is in 2024. Teare then missed the US final entirely in 2023 but has since returned to his college coach Ben Thomas and has run a 5,000 pb of 12:54 this year in addition to his 3:32.16 pb in the 1500. His odds go way up in a fast race.

Teare is a very good runner, but could end up like Craig Engels — another very good runner who was denied an Olympic spot by great runners.

Group D: The College Stars

This year’s group of collegians isn’t as quite strong as the 2021 Hocker/Nuguse class, but it’s damn good. Wisconsin’s Adam Spencer won the Australian title this year but was only 3rd at NCAAs, and the two guys that beat him are both American: Washington’s Joe Waskom and Oregon’s Elliott Cook. NAU’s Colin Sahlman was close behind Spencer in 4th and his 3:33.96 sb ranks #2 in NCAA history. And Washington’s Nathan Green and Luke Houser are both NCAA champions in their own right, though they didn’t run great at NCAAs (10th for Green, 12th for Houser).

Waskom has the best chance from this group to make the team. Not just because he won NCAAs, but how he won NCAAs. Waskom did not run a tactically perfect race, getting shuffled back on the last lap after moving up with 500 to go, but he won anyway, going from 7th to 1st thanks to an insane final 150. He’s utterly fearless — witness him taking it to Nuguse at USAs last year — and has the kick to back it up.

Group E: The Old Guard

I predicted back in January that Matthew Centrowitz, in his final year as a pro, would make his fourth Olympic team in 2024. And as of a month ago, I was feeling pretty good. After his typical slow start, Centro ran 3:35 on May 4 and 3:35 again on May 18. With another month of healthy training, maybe Centro could get into 3:33/3:34 shape and run his way onto the team with a tactical masterpiece.

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Then Centro pulled out of the Pre Classic and hasn’t raced since. That’s worrying, because Centro still needs the Olympic standard and Pre represented his best chance to get it. It’s also a Nike meet, and Centro is a Nike athlete. He wouldn’t scratch if everything was going smoothly.

Now the 34-year-old Centro needs to run under 3:33.50 at the Trials — a time he hasn’t hit since 2019 — off of what is presumably an imperfect final month of training. The odds are stacked against him, but the dude is an Olympic champion and one of America’s best milers ever. If he’s going down, he’s going down swinging.

The other guy in this group is Craig Engels. He was 5th at the ’16 Trials (and 4th in the 800) and 4th at the ’21 Trials, and at 30 years old, ’24 is his last realistic shot to make the team. Engels has tried to stay optimistic throughout the season, but his race results (3:36.11, 1:47.05, 3:36.04, 1:46.86) just have not been good enough recently. It would be stunning if he made the team at this point.

MB: Centro injured or in great shape and laying low. Which is more likely?

JG prediction

I just don’t see a reason to pick against Nuguse and Hocker making the team. Since USAs last year, they’ve shown they’re clearly the two best guys, and Nuguse has been consistently better than Hocker. Maybe one of them slides down to third but I feel very good about both of them making the team.

I do wonder, however, if Nuguse “pulls a Jakob” and tries to front-run a 3:31 or 3:32. That strategy carries some risk, but one of the reasons Ingebrigtsen runs that way in championships finals is to eliminate anyone who isn’t at his level from being close over the last 200. Yes, he’s been beaten in the last two Worlds, but he also hasn’t finished lower than 2nd. If Nuguse runs 3:31, maybe Hocker pulls by him in the home straight, but three guys aren’t beating him and the goal at the Trials is to make the team. Of course, three guys probably aren’t beating Nuguse in any scenario.

The big question is the third spot. Kessler and Teare both have compelling cases, but Waskom made this team last year and was sensational at NCAAs. And while I’m usually hesitant to use terms like “winner” and “heart of a champion” — usually the fittest athlete wins — Waskom sure does have an impressive record in outdoor championships: 1st-2nd-1st at the last three NCAAs and 2nd at his only USAs. He’s my pick for 3rd.

1. Nuguse 2. Hocker 3. Waskom but…

…considering the US championships record is 3:34.09, there is a very real possiblity Waskom doesn’t get the 3:33.50 Olympic standard at the Trials. And he could miss out on qualifying via world ranking, too. Waskom has a ranking score of 1201 and right now the athlete in the 45th and final world ranking spot, Charles Grethen of Luxembourg, has 1228. To raise his ranking score to 1228, Waskom would have to win the Trials in 3:33.92.

If Waskom doesn’t end up getting in, I have Kessler finishing 4th and going to the Olympics.

Who wins the US Olympic Trials men's 1500?

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Does Hobbs Kessler make the US Olympic 1500 team?

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Does Cooper Teare make the US Olympic 1500 team?

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Discuss this race on the LetsRun messageboard

If you want in-depth analysis of the top contenders and potential race dynamics, the thread below is a goldmine.

MB My Predictions for the US Men’s 1500 Olympic Team

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